Michele Shirlow MBE – Farm Week Column 5 June 2019

We are delighted to be supporting Taste the Island, a celebration of our food and drink. It will deliver world class food and drink experiences across the Island and is co-ordinated by Tourism NI, Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland. No doubt InvestNI will also pay a key role as it dovetails with the support they are offering to entrepreneurs to gain traction in the GB and RoI markets.


Following on from Year of Food and Drink Taste the Island is a unique opportunity to showcase the quality and variety of produce and experiences that are readily available throughout Ireland.


The initiative has kicked off with a series of Workshops to engage councils, hospitality providers and food and drink producers here.

To quote John McGrillen, Chief Executive of TourismNI ‘There is a spectacular energy simmering in Northern Ireland and Taste the Island is the perfect way to celebrate the quality, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship within our food and drink industry.’

That vitality is evident at each of the workshops, from Armagh Cider to Lough Neagh eels there is a palpable energy to show the world our world class produce.


At FoodNI we are keen to bring our experience to bear, particularly from the hugely successful Year of Food and Drink in 2016, to ensure the initiative achieves the objective of increasing tourism and ensuring an outstanding visitor experience.


The initiative aims to build on the record numbers of visitors to both parts of the island and especially the influx of international golf fans for The Open at Portrush. Interestingly, I’ve heard of groups of wives and girlfriends seeking other activities while their menfolk watch the golf!  The alternative events include a recent booking from a US group keen to learn how to bake potato cakes, sodas and other traditional Northern Irish breads at a local cookery school!


It is great to see that our reputation for delicious and unique bread continues to strengthen outside Northern Ireland.


Taste the Island has been shaped to increase awareness abroad of our traditional foods and especially the new products and distinctive cuisines which have emerged over the past few years in particular. Ireland is now rivalling France, Italy and Denmark as a European hub of innovative gastronomy.

Northern Ireland, significantly, is now recognised internationally as the ‘World’s Best Food Destination’. 


Encouragingly, recent Tourism NI statistics indicated that four out of every five visitors to these shores were impressed by the quality and variety of our food and drink. And 38 percent described it as “excellent”. This is crucially important because visitors generally spend more than a third of their budget on food and drink which is a key influence on the choice of a holiday or short trip destination.


And it also aims to raise the visitor experience in terms of hospitality service in hotels, restaurants, pubs, cafes and events across the country. We’ve got to ensure that the great food and drink here is matched by world class hospitality and customer service standards.


While we already have an extensive programme of food and drink festivals and other events, Taste the Island is keen to see more and different attractions, especially indoor, for visitors to enjoy. An important contribution by food and drink companies has been the creation of several excellent visitor centres, the most recent being by Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative focusing on eel, pollan and trout fishing.


Taste the Island will be taking place across September, October and November and will seek “to attract more visitors to experience great events, high quality local ingredients and world class authentic food and drink experiences”.


It aims to promote “visits to food producers, distillers and brewers; food trails, food festivals, participation in traditional skills, opportunities to forage and fish or sit back and enjoy the best modern Irish cuisine in traditional pubs, small-town cafés, restaurants, city bistros and Michelin-starred experiences”.


A Taste the Island Charter has been created to encourage participating businesses to commit to:


Promote and celebrate Taste the Island;

Strive to deliver quality and value for money;

Strive to use produce from the Island of Ireland;

Strive to operate sustainably and minimise and manage waste responsibly;

Prioritise sourcing local food and drink;

Participate in the ‘Taste the Island’ visitor welcome programme;

Sign up to Taste the Island brand usage and digital promotions guidelines;

Deliver a new or dedicated event to celebrate Taste the Island and increase the awareness of local provenance.


I firmly believe that Taste the Island is a great opportunity for local food and drink producers to convey their unique stories, products and experiences.